Tag Archives: Quilting for pay

How Much Are Those Placemats Worth?

On Facebook today, a friend’s page fielded a question about where to find placemats. The person asking wants a set of placemats and a Christmas tree skirt to go with a quilted table runner she bought in 2003. Several people chimed in with help, some of them suggesting she buy fabric and have someone make placemats for her.

The question and the suggestions made me wonder how much a set of four quilted placemats is worth. I broke it down like this:
Assumptions
Four placemats are ordered
Each placemat measures 12″ x 18″
Placemats are made in a 4 x 6 layout of 3″ finish squares

Overhead, administrative, and marketing expenses are negligible
Total overhead cost = $0

Batting and thread are negligible expenses
Fabric is $12/yard
Backing fabric required is 1 yard
Top fabric required (for variety) is at least 6 fat quarters, or 1.5 yards
Binding required (2.5″ wide cut) is .75 yards (due to shrinkage, straightening, etc.)
Total yardage required is 3.25 yards
Total yardage cost is $39
Total cost of materials = $39

Labor cost is $20/hour
Fabric is purchased and washed, but not otherwise prepped by the buyer
Top fabric is pressed and cut into 96 3.5″ squares
Top fabric is arranged into pleasing layouts
Top fabric is stitched into 4 12″ x 18″ finish tops
(Pressing continues throughout stitching process)
Backing fabric is pressed and trimmed into 33″ x Width of Fabric rectangle
Binding fabric is pressed and cut into 2.5″ wide x Width of Fabric strips
Binding fabric is joined to create 280″ long binding strip
Backing fabric is pinned on longarm quilting frame leaders
Batting is cut to size
Batting is loaded on frame, pinned along top edge
Two placemats tops are pinned on to complete sandwich
Thread is wound
Machine is threaded
Machine is tested
Two placemats are basted in place
Two placemats are quilted partway
Two placemats are advanced on the frame (rolled forward)
Two placemats are finished with basting and quilting
Next two placemats are positioned and basted in place
Next two placemats are quilted partway
Placemats are advanced on the frame
Placemats are finished with basting and quilting
Project is removed from the frame
Project is trimmed into 4 separate placemats
Binding is applied to back of each placemat
Binding is machine-finished for each placemat
Total time for 4 placemats is 5 hours
Total labor cost = $100

Total materials and labor = $139
Total cost per placemat = $34.75

Wow. Would you pay $34.75 for simple pieced-squares placemats? I sure wouldn’t. You could argue the time involved or the appropriate labor charge. Let’s take the labor charge to zero. Will you pay $10 each for your placemats? That’s still a lot. But arguably it’s too low. I didn’t include any of the overhead costs, by assumption; I didn’t include the costs of batting or thread; I didn’t include any profit.

A set of handmade quilted placemats is not trivial in value. The notion of “buy a few yards of fabric and find a seamstress … ” as one person suggested, minimizes the value of a maker’s time. I make placemats occasionally, for myself and my children. It is a good gift. But it’s another example of a quilted item with much more value than most people are willing to pay.

If you’d like to read my posts on quilting as a business, you can find them here:

Quilting for Pay — The Longarm
Conversations with Artists
Price vs. Value of a Quilt, Part 1
Price vs. Value of a Quilt, Part 2
You Should Write Patterns
“It Feels Weird Asking for Pay”
Pay for Quilters (And other Crafters and Artists)
You Should Sell Those: A Play in Three Short Scenes, With Commentary

Cotton — Where Does Your Fabric Come From?
Cotton — What Happens After Harvest?
Cotton — Weaving Fabric
Cotton — Batik Production
Cotton — Printing Designs

Quilting for Pay — The Longarm

I’ve discussed a variety of aspects of the quilting industry. A list of links is below. One part of the industry I’ve mentioned but not explored is longarm quilting.

While the longarm industry has exploded over the last few years, it is not new. In fact, quilters have used sewing machines to quilt since sewing machines were invented. (Note: “quilting” is the process of stitching through the top layer, stuffing/batting/wadding, and back layer.) Soon after, inventors were developing various methods for moving the layers under the needle, having secured the layers to a frame. As now, two different options were to move the frame with a stationary stitching machine, and to move the machine with a stationary frame.

This post from Hart Cottage Quilts (this link is no longer active) is worth reading in its entirety. Within it she explains:

By the end of the Civil War, sewing machines were entering homes at the rate of 20,000 per year; in 1871 Singer sold an amazing 180,000 machines. Mrs. Augusta Hoover received the first U.S. patent for a machine quilting frame. Its description as an “improvement” suggests that it was not the first of its kind. Like most of the systems that followed, it consisted of a two-bar, ratchet-geared roller frame that held the quilt taut. (A comparable modern example would be the John Flynn system.) The frame then slid along tracks attached to the bed of the sewing machine like the carriage of a typewriter. As the user operated the sewing machine, the frame would move along the track, allowing perfectly straight, parallel lines to be quilted.

By 1877 J.J. Crall decided it should be the machine, not the frame, that moved; his system will be recognized by modern quilters as the precursor to today’s longarm quilting system. Just as today, the machine sits on a platform which moves along a track underneath the quilt.

The origins of the modern longarm quilting machine began with Fred Nolting, a tinkerer, repairman, and inventor. In the early 1960s he rebuilt his first sewing machine, increasing its throat length to 24″. After several years of rebuilding machines for various employers, he was asked to build a machine from scratch in 1972. According to Nolting, “This machine was the first long arm, similar to the ones today, without the hopping foot.” Over the next few years he continued to improve the machine, adding a hopping foot, stitch regulation, and other things. He also built the first longarm machines sold under the Gammill name, before striking out and selling machines under the Nolting brand in 1984.

When I began quilting in 2003, longarm quilting services were few and far between. I first had quilts professionally done in about 2006. That quilter also had a machine in her shop, for which quilters could rent time after taking and passing a day-long class. I did the class, and I rented time to create a couple of quilts. When my sister purchased a longarm in 2009, I visited her and her machine a number of times, before buying my own in 2010. I never intended to quilt for others as a business, and I still have no interest in doing so.

20151017_134553

Home ownership of longarms is much more common now, despite the price tag of the machine and frame. Depending on the size of the machine and its capabilities, as well as the frame, systems can run from about $10,000 to $30,000.

For some, quilting for others is their business and pleasure. In order to make it a business, quilters charge for their services. Depending on their offerings, quilters might use pantographs, computerized design, or custom free-motion quilting. This link and this link describe the differences in some of the possibilities.

How much do quilters charge? It depends on many factors including the style of quilting (see above,) the size of the quilt and/or the time required, the batting used if the quilter supplies it, the threads used as well as how many different colors, and if other services such as repairs are needed.

I’ve read a lot of informative posts over the years about longarm quilting. This recent post by andi of andicrafts explains her pricing. As a business owner, she is responsible for creating a high-quality product/service; paying for her own space, equipment, supplies, utilities, web access and website; paying her own salary and benefits; and advertising and performing all other administrative and marketing tasks. As a highly skilled worker, she should earn, after all those other costs, much more than minimum wage. (It’s a terrific post and I encourage you to read it, including the comments following.)

This is the same argument I’ve given before in some of the posts linked below. If a quilter is selling her quilts, she puts a lot of resources into them. Once she has created her quilts, paid for her direct and indirect costs, and paid her own wage and benefits, she should make more than the wage of a low-skilled worker. (And yes, I’m using the feminine pronoun here as a shorthand for members of a group that also includes men.)

Do you quilt for others as a business? How do you choose to charge? Do you send your tops to someone else to quilt? Do you quilt for yourself? Have you had either great or terrible experiences with customers or with longarm quilters? Tell us in comments what you think about longarm quilting. 

If you’d like to read my posts on quilting as a business, you can find them here:

Conversations with Artists
Price vs. Value of a Quilt, Part 1
Price vs. Value of a Quilt, Part 2
You Should Write Patterns
“It Feels Weird Asking for Pay”
Pay for Quilters (And other Crafters and Artists)
You Should Sell Those: A Play in Three Short Scenes, With Commentary

Cotton — Where Does Your Fabric Come From?
Cotton — What Happens After Harvest?
Cotton — Weaving Fabric
Cotton — Batik Production
Cotton — Printing Designs

Conversations with Artists

Last Friday evening Jim and I attended our local annual art fair. From around the Midwest, painters, photographers, jewelers, woodworkers, and other artists came to display and sell their goods. Jim and I always enjoy speaking with the makers at art fairs. We get insight into their process and inspirations. We engage more fully with the art itself. This time was no exception.

A large photo of a lake in the Black Hills drew us into the booth of a talented photographer. After enjoying his photos for several minutes, I turned to the man and asked, Do you find that there is an upper limit for what people are willing to spend at an art fair venue?

He paused for a moment, and with a firm voice said, “No. I don’t find that at all. People who are willing to pay for art are just as willing to pay $3,000 as they are $300.” He went on to say everyone loves a discount, but he can discount an expensive photo by $100 or a less expensive photo by the same amount, and the buyer is just as happy either way.

“Huh. I’m a quilter and have thought a lot about selling my quilts. But it’s hard to believe anyone would pay me what they’re worth. For most people, a quilt from Kohl’s is just as good,” I told him.

“Well, they can buy pictures for their wall, too. But the people who buy wall art from Kohl’s and the people who buy from me are completely different people. Two completely different markets.”

***

Jim and I continued through the warm, muggy evening. Wandering in and out of artists’ booths, we asked one woman about a woodcut print. It was a poignant representation of a man who was with us but not… She told me an artists’ group had paired visual artists with poets. The poet she worked with had written about a brother with schizophrenia.

Another woodcut artist had more light-hearted work. One piece included the advice to keep it simple. When I commented on it, he reminded me about jazz music and how so much of the music is in the notes not played.

***

Shortly before we headed home we spotted one of my favorite artists, Meg Prange. Meg is a quilt artist who creates whimsical scenes with blind-stitch appliqué. I’ve visited with her several times over the years, and last year she presented to my local quilt guild.

I asked her how business was and she shrugged. “It’s always slow on Fridays,” she said. We chatted more about art festival sales. In order to break even an artist needs to sell enough to cover all the costs of production, as well as the marketing expenses of the fair. Booth costs, mileage, labor, accommodations and food, it adds up. Again she shrugged. “Last year I didn’t sell much of anything at this fair, but later I got a commission worth $3,300.” Being there had been valuable exposure for her.

***

Since I’ve been thinking about quilting as a business, these conversations were especially informative to me. While the typical “customer” might treat an art fair as a diversion, much like going to a museum, the artists must treat it as a business. They need to know their market and have realistic expectations for profits.

I’ll continue to ask questions about art and artists, including the business side. I may never choose to sell my quilts. But understanding both the motivations and rewards of other makers helps me understand my own, as well. Better understanding can only enhance my creative power.

***

If you’d like to read my posts on quilting as a business, you can find them here:

Quilting for Pay — The Longarm
Conversations with Artists
Price vs. Value of a Quilt, Part 1
Price vs. Value of a Quilt, Part 2
You Should Write Patterns
“It Feels Weird Asking for Pay”
Pay for Quilters (And other Crafters and Artists)
You Should Sell Those: A Play in Three Short Scenes, With Commentary

Cotton — Where Does Your Fabric Come From?
Cotton — What Happens After Harvest?
Cotton — Weaving Fabric
Cotton — Batik Production
Cotton — Printing Designs

You Should Write Patterns!

I’ve written before about selling quilts, and the value vs. price problem. I choose not to sell my quilts (at this time,) because I reasonably believe that I value them far more than someone else would pay. In other words, the value to me is higher than the price I could charge. Consider a bed-sized quilt. If it takes 80 to 100 hours of my time, plus about $200 of direct material cost, plus overhead and marketing costs, plus profit, that quilt has a value (to me) of well over $2000. Will you pay me that much? If not, I’d rather give them away. (See end notes for links to my posts on this issue.)

Besides selling your quilts, another way to earn income in the quilting world is to create patterns. Thousands of quilters offer patterns, both for free and for payment. Some sell their designs through magazines or other publishers. Others market their patterns themselves.

A design, not a pattern. No yardage, no technical directions. Free here: https://catbirdquilts.wordpress.com/2014/05/25/free-medallion-quilt-design-1/

If you are interested in writing patterns, I strongly encourage you to read a couple of posts on the subject. First, from Jennifer at See How We Sew, some advice on creating well-written patterns. Second, from Sam Hunter at Hunter’s Design Studio, a discussion on writing patterns, and what might have happened when a pattern isn’t well done.

One aspect Sam mentions is how well pattern-writing pays. Or not. If you want to make income from your patterns, this is a key piece of data.

Whether you write one pattern for pay, or write them full-time, it IS a business. Several months ago I had a frustrating experience when I decided to buy two patterns from a designer’s website. The process didn’t go well. Multiple attempts to contact her — by email and phone — went unanswered for many days. Her eventual emails to me blamed me, rather than taking responsibility for a glitch in her website. Finally she whined that sending out the problem pattern by mail (which I had not demanded) would cost her another $5. I told her that if that was all it cost her to learn a good lesson in customer service, it was a cheap lesson. She is talented at design but her business skills were lacking.

Another aspect of designing and pattern-writing to consider is copyright law on patterns. It can be very hard to protect your work, and the law isn’t clear on where the lines are drawn. If you’ve ever looked at a quilt and thought, “I don’t need to buy the pattern for that. I can draw that up myself,” you know what I mean. (If this concerns you, I’ll leave it to you to investigate for yourself. Copyright law is not my area of expertise.)

Now and then I’m asked to provide a pattern for one of my quilts. It’s a tremendous compliment and I take it seriously. But while I love to design, I’m not interested in writing patterns. The reasons are partly due to my personality, and partly because of my quilts.

First, to create a pattern and be sure that it provides good instructions, a pattern should be tested. Because I design as I go, I would need to make two quilts of the same design, with the second one as a test of instructions written only after the first was finished. I don’t want to make duplicate quilts. I want to make original quilts. So recreating a design, even for pattern testing, is not very interesting to me.

Second, in general, my quilts are complex. Writing accurate instructions would be time-consuming and difficult, and would suck all the fun out of quilt creation for me. Instructions you would get would be lengthy and difficult, and might well suck all the fun out of creation for you, too. Both of us would lose.

Third, and most important, I don’t want to help you make my quilts. I want to help you make your quilts. Your fabrics are different from mine, your vision is different from mine, you might have a specific purpose for your quilt. If you want to make your best friend a quilt loaded with friendship stars, by all means you should! If you have a wonderful piece of embroidery, or a great big print you’d like to use as a center block (Kate…), you should.

I can help you with that. But I can’t help you make your quilt your way AND tell you how to make my quilt my way. It’s a choice.

We are more powerful when we create from our own vision. For many people, it is harder to do that than to use someone else’s design and instructions. But I know from personal experience, and from feedback from my students, that original creation is incredibly rewarding. It feeds confidence and seeds more ideas for future work. Those seeds sprout and grow in unexpected ways. Here as elsewhere we reap what we sew.

If you’d like to read my posts on quilting as a business, you can find them here:

Quilting for Pay — The Longarm
Conversations with Artists
Price vs. Value of a Quilt, Part 1
Price vs. Value of a Quilt, Part 2
You Should Write Patterns
“It Feels Weird Asking for Pay”
Pay for Quilters (And other Crafters and Artists)
You Should Sell Those: A Play in Three Short Scenes, With Commentary

Cotton — Where Does Your Fabric Come From?
Cotton — What Happens After Harvest?
Cotton — Weaving Fabric
Cotton — Batik Production
Cotton — Printing Designs

“It Feels Weird Asking for Pay”

Last week I wrote about why I don’t sell my quilts. It comes down to this: I value my quilts more than potential buyers would, and I will not sell them for less than they’re worth to me. I will give them freely to those I love. I will give them freely in compassionate service. But I won’t sell. Would that ever change? Perhaps, but right now it’s hard to imagine.

My post was spurred by the ongoing discussion among quilters (and other crafters and artists) about how to price handmade goods at appropriate prices. Many sell their quilts for the cost of materials and not much more, not recognizing the value of their time and all the other factors required to create their work. Others understand value in an academic sense but feel uncomfortable in asking for that much, that it seems immodest or something.

Women sell all kinds of products and services. We ask for business every day. We ask people to trust us, that we’ll be honorable in our end of the transaction. When they do, they are not doing us a favor. They are satisfying a need on their own end. It goes two ways.

Marie Forleo defines the particular problem many artists and crafters face here

But a strange phenomenon often occurs for passion-based business owners — especially when it’s time to get paid.
You have trouble bringing yourself to actually ask for money for something you’re so naturally good at.
Feels weirdly like cheating the system. Or taking advantage. Or somehow getting one over on people.

It feels weird asking for pay.

Women, in particular, have been taught to downplay our strengths to others, don’t show off, don’t brag. If you’re just really good and really patient, things will work out for you. Even today we’re told not to assert ourselves, especially with regard to pay. Last fall Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella told a group of women in technology that they shouldn’t ask for raises, but to trust that the system will give them the “right raise”.

Having been a woman in a male-dominated field, I can tell you the system fails.

Fortunately, Nadella’s co-panelist at the meeting was computer scientist Dr. Maria Klawe. She offered better advice. According to this article from Salon, she said,

“First of all, do your homework…know what the appropriate salary is.” … “Then role play, sit down with someone you really trust, and practice asking them for a raise.”

Know what the appropriate price is. Shake off the voice that says you don’t deserve that much. Practice asking for the right amount. Ask.

One thing I learned a long time ago: you don’t get if you don’t ask.

So what about the voice in your head, the one that says you’re not quite good enough, not ready? This post by Tara Mohr addresses the doubt. She says that voice “is a wild liar. It has no bias for truth-telling. It says whatever it thinks might make you leap right back into the cozy territory of the familiar.”

Does it feel weird asking for pay? You can learn to quiet the inner critic that keeps you holding back. One way to do that is to practice. Marie Forleo’s post, linked above and here, includes a video on practicing. It’s kind of light and funny, but has some really good points.

Do you struggle with asking for pay? Do you have tips in asking to be paid, or paid more? Share with us.

If you’d like to read my posts on quilting as a business, you can find them here:

Quilting for Pay — The Longarm
Conversations with Artists
Price vs. Value of a Quilt, Part 1
Price vs. Value of a Quilt, Part 2
You Should Write Patterns
“It Feels Weird Asking for Pay”
Pay for Quilters (And other Crafters and Artists)
You Should Sell Those: A Play in Three Short Scenes, With Commentary

Cotton — Where Does Your Fabric Come From?
Cotton — What Happens After Harvest?
Cotton — Weaving Fabric
Cotton — Batik Production
Cotton — Printing Designs